The Great Hall Exhibitions

There are two Great Hall Exhibitions per year showcasing prominent contemporary artists. Taking place in the fall and spring semesters, the expansive great hall of the Duke House, a historic landmark building, provides an impressive setting for displaying seminal contemporary art in the center of the Institute’s academic home and community.

Spring 2024
Maia Ruth Lee:
Once we leave a place is it there

Opening: February 22, 2024 at 6:00 PM
On View: February 23 to December 13, 2024
Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The James B. Duke House
1 East 78th Street

Make an appointment to see the exhibition
Public Programs
Launch Exhibition Website

Maia Ruth Lee, B.B.M.2-14, 2023, 44 x 66 inches, ink on canvas. Courtesy of Tina Kim Gallery and the artist. Photo by Hyunjung Rhee.

The Institute of Fine Arts is pleased to present Once we leave a place is it there, a solo exhibition featuring new work by artist Maia Ruth Lee (b.1983, Busan, South Korea). The Spring 2024 iteration marks the return to in-person exhibitions since the start of the pandemic and proudly continues the Institute’s Great Hall Exhibition series’ commitment to celebrating the practices of exemplary women artists. The exhibition is especially animated by the goal of highlighting the practices and scholarship of women of color both within and beyond the field of art history. Public programming will prioritize academic and artistic dialogues on the topics of migration, diaspora, and decolonization.

Born in Busan, South Korea, and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, Lee immigrated to the United States in 2011 and lived in New York City before settling in Colorado with her family in 2020. Shaped by her lived experiences of migration, Lee explores the friction and fragmentation that arises from assimilation through dislocation, alongside larger themes of community, borders, and language. The exhibition title, Once we leave a place is it there, is drawn from Myung Mi Kim’s collection of poems, Under Flag (1991). Echoing Kim’s reflection on her journey as an immigrant, Lee considers the various meanings of a flag: as a symbol of a nation, a token of imperialism, and a marker of one’s identity and spirituality. 

At the center of the exhibition is Bondage Baggage Banner (2024), a newly commissioned installation—featuring freestanding sculptures, banners, and an offering table—that brings to life marginalized histories within the historic architecture of the Institute’s Marica Vilcek Great Hall. The sculptures and painted banners reflect Lee’s experimentation with different mediums in her Bondage Baggage series (2018-ongoing), a core practice in her oeuvre. The sculptures, which serve as a central starting point, are modeled after the luggage of migrant workers in Nepal, characterized by their similar net-like tying of tarp, ropes, and tape. As a continuation of her Bondage Baggage series, Lee applies ink to the surface of the sculpture, which is made of fabric tightly bundled together with rope. She then cuts the ropes once the pigments have dried, transforming the sculpture into a painting. Once the metaphorical “baggage” is released from its bondage, the painting reveals the traces of rope and fabric creases, evocative of the simultaneously collective and individual experiences of migration. 

In the installation, five of these vibrant banners, individually painted in black, white, yellow, blue, and red, all flow down to a jesa-sang, a Korean offering table for ancestors. The five hues constitute obangsaek, the five cardinal directions and elements in Korean culture, summoning the ancestors—who have been historically pushed to the periphery—back to the center. Lee’s sculptures constitute an offering in place of the sumptuous fruits and dishes that typically adorn the jesa-sang. Blending traditions from Korean jesa with public offerings quintessential to Buddhist monasteries in Nepal, Lee’s Bondage Baggage Banner invites the audience to participate by placing an object of their choice on the table. In this way, visitors may partake in its gradual metamorphosis by honoring their own ancestors, migrants known and unknown, as well as personal reckonings with rootlessness. 

Maia Ruth Lee (b.1983, Busan, South Korea) is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice spans painting, sculpture, photography, and video. She attended Hongik University in Seoul, Korea, and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada. Lee has had solo exhibitions at the Tina Kim Gallery (NY), Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (CO), and François Ghebaly Gallery (LA). She has participated in the 2019 Whitney Biennial and an array of group exhibitions at the Aspen Art Museum (CO), Fotografiska New York, Gio Marconi Gallery (Milan), and Mai 36 Galerie (Zurich). Lee was awarded the Gold Art Prize in 2021 and the Rema Hort Mann Grant in 2017. Her work is held in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Valeria NapoleoneXX. 

Clarice Lee, Malaika Newsome, Ruiqi Wang, and Fiona Yu curated the exhibition. We extend special thanks to the artist, Maia Ruth Lee, and to the Tina Kim Gallery and Diana Lee. Catherine Quan Damman, Christine Poggi, Sarah Higby, and Sofia Palumbo-Dawson provided faculty and administrative support; Jason Varone designed the website. 

About the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU

Since 1932, The Institute of Fine Arts has been dedicated to graduate teaching and advanced research in the history of art, archaeology, curation, and conservation. The Great Hall Exhibition was formed as a student-led coalition in 2013 with a focus on presenting contemporary art in the Duke House’s Beaux-Arts interior. Acclaimed artists Lynda Benglis, Rachel Harrison, Martha Friedman, Judith Hopf, Jamie Eisenstein, Amy Yao, Sarah Peters, Xaviera Simmons, Cauleen Smith, Avital Meshi, and Mónica Félix are among those featured to date. 

About ValeriaNapoleoneXX

ValeriaNapoleoneXX is an umbrella platform for projects and initiatives working towards increasing the recognition and validation of art practices by women artists through collaborations and partnerships with institutions and individuals in the world of contemporary art. 

About ValeriaNapoleoneXXIFA

ValeriaNapoleoneXXIFA is an ongoing commitment to underwrite the Great Hall Exhibition Series at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, focused on the work of women artists. 

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Launch Exhibition Website

Exhibition Archive

Spring 2023: Mónica Félix

Spring 2022: Avital Meshi

Spring 2021: Cauleen Smith

Spring 2020: Xaviera Simmons

Fall 2019: Sarah Peters

Spring 2019: Amy Yao

Fall 2018: Elaine Lustig Cohen

Spring 2018: Jamie Isenstein

Fall 2017: Judith Hopf

Spring 2017: Lucy Kim

Fall 2016: Martha Friedman

Spring 2016: Charles Simonds

Fall 2015: Walead Beshty

Spring 2015: Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Fall 2014: Marta Chilindron

Spring 2014: Rachel Harrison

Fall 2013: Lynda Benglis